From just one month as a trainee, to appearing on the survival audition show R U Next?, to debuting, the past year has been completely life-altering for 16-year-old WONHEE. The girl who says that nothing brings her greater happiness than a good snack is now learning how to share all the happiness and good fortune that’s found her.

Your introduction film for SUPER REAL ME shows you getting ready to go out. You’re acting in the video, but you’re a real natural.
WONHEE: The director and the writer told me who I was supposed to be going out to meet, then I slowly went through, thinking it over. And then, I said everything I was thinking all at once, like, “The friend I’m meeting today is a dog, and dogs have sensitive noses, so I have to make sure to get any dust off of me!” (laughs) But actually, watching the video, I look awkward in it, and I felt awkward watching it, too. I was like, “Ugh, that awkward smile!” I could barely watch it. I had to keep skipping ahead 10 seconds. (laughs)

I guess both filming and watching it are still new for you. (laughs)
WONHEE: Lots of things about this are still awkward, but now I’m progressively starting to see what’s so enjoyable about it. I always see the same members of the staff, so we’re getting to know each other and talking to each other, and I’m gradually getting used to being on camera. When I go on variety shows, there’s this pressure to be energetic, but everything’s so new that even the pressure feels fascinating. I’m on these shows I only ever saw on YouTube or TV, so I’m like, I can’t believe I’m going to be on that show! I feel excited, nervous, and thrilled all at once. (laughs) When we’re doing photos, I think, My face was a little awkward—maybe I’ll try this next time? It’s fun to watch myself improving bit by bit.

It sounds like you’ll gradually like it more as time goes on, then.
WONHEE: I think so too! It feels like I’m improving by like 0.01% each time. (laughs)

What did you mean when you described yourself as quiet but upbeat?
WONHEE: I get shy when I’m in an unfamiliar situation or there’s a lot of new people around, but I feel more upbeat when I’m doing something I like that I’m confident in. My MBTI changed to ISFP for the first time around the time I entered high school, and it’s been that way ever since. To be honest, when I suddenly decided to become an idol, I was somewhat afraid for a future I had no experience with. When I became a trainee and moved to Seoul, everyone I knew was suddenly gone and replaced entirely with people I didn’t know. Since now I was in a position where I had to be the one to initiate things, I tried to be more outgoing, but that sometimes made me even more awkward.

What were you like before that? I heard you hosted a school festival once.
WONHEE: Up until my second year of middle school, I was an extreme E: super outgoing without a hint of shyness. I loved PE class so much that I would constantly ask my teacher to let us play dodgeball. I couldn’t do that as much once I became gym class president in my third year, though. (laughs) Aside from school events where I sang with the choir or hosted, I didn’t really have any experience singing or dancing onstage. Me and my friend decided to try and host together to make a good memory out of it, but somehow I ended up being the only one chosen … (laughs)

So, when did you start dreaming of becoming an idol?
WONHEE: Being an idol means lots of people love you, so from some point after watching performances, I always wanted to try. But I never went to a dance academy or trained in any serious way. But opportunities came to me one by one, and more and more I thought, Oh! I want to give this a shot. Should I just try it? My emotions are like reeds, and my mind’s seriously light as a plastic bag. Then I was scouted, and even though it wasn’t easy working up the courage to go on an audition reality show, after talking it over with my parents, we decided it was worth it to try.

When you were on R U Next?, though, you didn’t shy away from potentially embarrassing situations, like when you had to do hip hop freestyle dancing or when you couldn’t twerk properly and asked your teammates for help.
WONHEE: That was thanks to my teammates being so accommodating and helping me out. If the atmosphere had been really intense, it would’ve taken me a long time to ask them even one thing. Even when I lightly asked them questions, they were all really accommodating and kept the mood light and were willing to teach me what I needed to learn. That made the learning process fun.

You showed continuous growth each round. Gyuri was a coach on the show and noted how you always brought something new and amazing to the table each time she saw you. One good example is when you  performed “Aim High” during the final episode. It was amazing how perfectly you embodied the atmosphere of the song. It’s like it was written about you.
WONHEE: Actually, when I’m about to go on stage, I’m hyper concentrated, thinking about when I’m going to look up and act surprised and when I’m going to wink, but as soon as I’m actually up there, I almost go blank. All I remember about “Aim High” was desperately looking for camera one or three. (laughs) I had to keep looking at the camera, and there were fans there too, so my attention was being pulled in every direction. I never pictured myself standing on stage with so many people cheering for me, but the energy I felt when I actually got up there was something else. It was almost addictive, and it made me want to keep being on stage.

What do you think of when you think back to the moment you were selected to debut?
WONHEE: I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so I didn’t prepare anything to say in the event I got it. I couldn’t believe it when they called my name. I was completely blindsided but I still had to show how grateful I was. It was so surreal. My dad was sitting completely still and was like, “Woo-hoo! She did it!” (laughs) And my mom looked totally shocked. She had a huge reaction, like, “Wow!” My brother and I—ha, we aren’t close. He texted me just four words: “Congrats on your debut.” That was it. (laughs)

Typical brother and sister. (laughs) You went through about six months of preparation after R U Next? ended for your debut.
WONHEE: It was a time for our group to get closer, talk together, practice, and work on our teamwork. It’s slowly starting to hit me lately, like, Is it really happening? Not so much, I’m finally debuting! (laughs) I’m watching the photos and videos we shot before starting to come out, and I’m like, Oh, it’s out! It’s out!

I saw the secret angel letter YUNAH wrote to you where she said, “I’ve been laughing more thanks to you and you brighten up the atmosphere for us.”
WONHEE: I actually feel sorry to the other members and like I’m a burden to them whenever I’m not in control of my emotions enough. But YUNAH has lots of energy and she’s good at leading the team, so I’m learning a lot from her. We’re also roommates, which is a lot of fun.

What do you think is the most important factor in bringing all of you together as a group?
WONHEE: Sharing our ideas with each other. It’s important that we talk, listen, and share feedback right away. That’s what me and the other members are working on most right now, but it’s still not that easy for us. For example, it can be awkward to say something when we’re doing group practice and someone’s not standing in the right position. We’re practicing so we don’t have to feel hesitant about telling that person they should move when it happens.

It sounds like that’s what you have to go through in order to have the perfect performance. “Magnetic” seems to have many parts where you need to make sure your energy and the intricacies of each movement are perfectly in sync between each group member.
WONHEE: You’re right. It’s got tons of moves where we have to keep our energy up and synchronize even the smallest movements with each other, so it was hard not to run out of energy. “Magnetic” is a quiet song but also has this sort of richly dynamic melody at different highlights, making it a catchy and really fun song.

You express incredible detail in your vocals, like the subtle tremble in your voice when you sing “this time I want” before the chorus in “Magnetic,” and your pitch for lines like, “If you zoom in with a magnifying glass,” in “My World.”
WONHEE: I could tell the “this time I want” line was a good match for my vocal range as soon as I heard the demo, so I really wanted to do that part, and was so happy when I got it. For my vocals, I tried to focus on details like how the line ends, controlling my breathing throughout, and my pitch, but (singing) “If you zoom in with a magnifying glass / Magic’s unfolding in my world”—that part was so hard. I had to capture the right vibe without losing the dynamics of the pitch. When I couldn’t capture the vibe right, ugh … The frustration I felt from that … (laughs) I spent a lot of time figuring out how to capture that part.

When you step out playfully during the verse of “Lucky Girl Syndrome,” I could feel the whole attitude and vibe of the song blooming.
WONHEE: “Lucky Girl Syndrome” is literally like, “Yeah I’m a lucky girl / Yeah you’re a lucky girl / Yeah we’re so lucky,” right? I tried really hard to sing it cheerfully so that anyone watching would feel like they’re going to have a lucky day—have nothing but good luck—and smile automatically.

The song says that the most important thing “is to believe in myself,” which sounds straightforward but is actually pretty difficult. What do you do when you find it hard to believe in yourself?
WONHEE: When I’m not feeling confident, I just try to do my best with what’s directly in front of me. And I encourage myself by telling myself to do things right so I won’t have any regrets later.

What about when you can’t deal with your problems or can’t think straight about things?
WONHEE: First I try to get my thoughts in order by writing them down in the notes app or in my journal. I used to just pour out my feelings when I was overwhelmed with emotion, but lately I try to think those things through. I ask myself, Why did I feel that way? Looking at what that person said rationally, it’s nothing to get upset about, so why do I feel bad about it? And then I sort through what I’m thinking. After that, I’ll do something like talk with my mom to figure out why I felt so bad, and once I do, I feel better.

You try to look at yourself rationally, but you come across as really empathetic in ILLIT videos. Your MBTI has been described as having a “capital F.”
WONHEE: I heard something that really resonated with me recently and I found it strangely comforting. It came from someone who’s a super T. Usually when I say, “I wish I was a T,” people respond, “No way, being an F is great, too.” But that one person said, “No. The world needs Fs to keep things moving.” That was a whole new kind of consolation for me. I learned that different people approach empathy differently.

In your “Debut Bucket List” video, you mentioned you like seeing people’s reactions when you give them gifts. Does seeing other people happy make you feel happy too?
WONHEE: I hadn’t really thought about it before, but now that you mention it, I think that’s true. Seeing people react to the gifts I give them is really satisfying and makes me want to give more of them. Something about that makes me happy. Maybe that’s why my friends always have at least a little something to say whenever I give them something. Whenever I give them a gift, they always go, “What? That’s so nice! You shouldn’t have!” They always say at least that much. (laughs)

You always write, “Be happy.” You also said, “I used the word ‘happy’ many times. That’s how important happiness is.” When does being an idol make you feel happy?
WONHEE: My perspective on happiness and much I feel it seems different now. I still feel happiest when I’m eating snacks, to be honest. (laughs) Maybe happiness for me used to start and stop with what my family and what my friends could give to me, but now there’s so many people watching me and so many fans cheering me on and sending me love, which gives me happiness too. I feel like happiness can come out of nowhere. And I feel like it can disappear just as suddenly. That’s why I’m truly grateful to my fans, and now I keep feeling like I want to give back whatever I can for all the love they’ve shown me.

What kind of figure do you want to be for your fans?
WONHEE: I want to be … someone who’s always there with them. I want to be someone who shares the same feelings for the future as my fans, and someone they can talk to. And I hope people will recognize the name ILLIT for a long time to come. If people know who we are when they hear the name ILLIT, I’ll know that we’ve succeeded. (laughs) Just like people know the names of famous artists, like, “It’s them! It’s them!” I hope we’ll be recognized like that too.

In your “50 Questions” video, you said your motto is, “Don’t leave any regrets,” but also mentioned you have a lot of them. (laughs) Still, is there anything in particular you absolutely don’t want to regret?
WONHEE: Yeah. (laughs) That’s why it’s my motto. If there’s one thing I don’t want to regret, it’s my life as an idol. My thinking is, I want to minimize the regrets I have as best I can. There’s so many people watching me, cheering for me, and sending me love. That’s why I’m so determined to spend this time in particular without any regrets.

ArticleSong Hooryeong
InterviewSong Hooryeong
Visual DirectorMat-kkal, Lucky Park(MHTL)
CoordinatorOh Minji
Visual Creative TeamLee Gunhee, Kim Nayeon, Kim Joo hyun, Yoon Sanga
PhotographyPark Sangjun(@poishx)
VideoJo Yunmi, Seo Yujeong
ProducerPark Soyoung(@andsoyoung_)
HairPark Jihee(HOLYHAIR)
MakeupMun Jiwon, Im Hajin
StylistAhn Areum
Set DesignMHTL(@official.mhtl), Leeroy Kim(@leeroykim)
Artist Protocal TeamWoo Soohyeon, Hong Inseo, Cho Yoojeong, Yun Jayoung
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